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Rowing on the Rise in Western Mass

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Rowing on the Rise in Western Mass

Maddie Merritt, a PVRC rower, in action alongside her teammates

Maddie Merritt, a PVRC rower, in action alongside her teammates

Maddie Merritt, a PVRC rower, in action alongside her teammates

Maddie Merritt, a PVRC rower, in action alongside her teammates

Alyssa Blair, News Editor

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For any driver who frequently takes the North End bridge from West Side into the city of Springfield, you may have caught sight of long, angular boats gliding along Connecticut. These boats, in fact, are not rowboats, but competitive shells[a] that belong to the Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club (PVRC), a local competitive rowing club.

PVRC serves a variety of ages, including youth and adult rowers. They are very similar to a regular sports team in the sense that their sport competes in meets, or regattas, all year round. What makes their sport somewhat unique is the large variety of types of shells there are, and the complexity and high level of teamwork used among the members of a given shell.

“Definitely a team sport. While in the boat, you have the pull as hard as you can, while still keeping the boat level. You have to work together to make sure the boat is balanced and not let your teammates down. Being in a boat with other people makes you want to push yourself and succeed,” said Maddie Merritt, a WSHS junior and a member of PVRC.

Boats can be divided up into teams of either eight, four, or two people. There is the option for one of these boats to have a coxswain, which is someone who yells commands to the rowers of the boat. Shells can also be individual, with a boat that holds a single rower. These teams will compete in races against other boats on riverfronts across New England, and sometimes the country, in a variety of distance events.

“I came across a one-week summer camp during the summer of 2016. I decided to try it out as I didn’t have any spring or fall sports to play, and only hockey in the winter. I ended up loving it, and have been rowing all year since,” said Merritt.

Rowing can be a hard sport to love. It takes long hours of training the muscles to work in a specific, unnatural motion of rowing a boat. For a rower, there is no offseason. Even in the winter, when the rivers are frozen or the water is too cold to grow in without being dangerous, rowers train at their boathouses. They do running and swimming to maintain their cardio, and weight training on special machines called ergs, which are set up to mimic the motion of rowing to condition-specific muscle groups that the actual rowing motion uses. Regardless of the challenge, though, this intense level of training is what makes the rowers work even harder.

“This sport, you want to stop during a test or race, but you don’t. Your lungs burn, and your legs are on fire, but you never stop,” said Merritt.

While rowing is a competitive sport that is gaining speed and popularity and is also a sport in the summer Olympics, most schools in Massachusetts do not offer a competitive rowing team. In fact, it is not even an MIAA sport. There are, however, several local rowing clubs besides PVRC, that are gaining speed and exposing more people to the new, exciting world of rowing, like the Northampton Community Rowing and the Holyoke Row.

Rowing is, at the surface, a very different and new sport. However, at the foundation, the bonds of a team are the same as every group of athletes who work together and put their trust in one another. “The friendship, mentality, and strength I gained out of it,” said Merritt. “I now have lifelong friends thanks to this sport.”

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Rowing on the Rise in Western Mass